Thursday, February 02, 2006

North Country

First impressions, you might think that this movie is another Erin Brockovich wannabe, with Charlize Theron stepping into Julia Robert's single mother shoes in yet a film about an underdog which takes on a large corporation in a legal battlefield. Or probably take off from a sexual harrassment theme from a Crichton novel.

Based upon the book "Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law", and of course, a dramatized Hollywood version of the first successful sexual harassment case in the US, you might hesitate that this movie might bore you with many of the legal mumbo-jumbo with plenty of objections and sustained motions.

This movie is more than that, and it doesn't overdo its courtroom scenes. Sure, they are there, but it doesn't take centrestage. What is core in the movie, is how relationships amongst the various characters are played out. And the telling of a story of one woman's fight against stacked odds.

It also examines the difficulty of being a single mom bringing up children who don't appreciate you for what you are and what you're doing for the family, and society's judgement of you based on damaging rumours and hear-says. Whether you would buckle under pressure, or stand up and be counted.

And of course, surviving in a male dominated industry such as mining. There are sexual jokes, innuendos and suggestions aplenty, as red-blooded men find it difficult to resist making off-coloured jokes, and bragging about their balls. If you look at it both sides, sure, when men congregate, we'd sure like to behave the way we behave with little inhibitions (no, I don't mean gay, that's for another movie), but with the ladies around, you'd just got to restrain yourself. It's not about being macho, but boils down to basic courtesy and being polite.

Throughout the movie, you'd experience how Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) changes her outlook on such situations and advances, from brushing them off initially, until they become too hot to handle. And being the whistleblower (the "in" term for 2005) doesn't help one bit, as it just makes the environment even more electrified. As the movie unravels, we learn more of her character, although some might already anticipate the slight twist in the movie with regards to her child.

As mentioned, what appeals in the movie is the relationships. Charlize as her character is caught in the middle - being the child to an unforgiving father, and having her past misdeeds catching up to her and embarassing her folks. But yet being a parent herself to her children, and worst, having them exposed to nasty rumours, having them looking down on her despite her immense love for them. The ups and downs, joy and pain she suffers - it makes you forget she's the one-dimensional killing machine in Aeon Flux.

Would Charlize win another Oscar for her performance? In my humble opinion, based on 2 other nominee's performance - Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, and Resse Witherspoon in Walk the Line, I'd say she has the upper hand. But I've yet to watch Transamerica and Mrs Henderson Presents, so I'll hold off my prediction for now.

But having a good supporting cast helps too, with Frances McDormand as her friend Glory, Sean Bean as Glory's husband Kyle, Woody Harrelson as the reluctant hockey-player turned lawyer Bill White. For the first time I actually hear a lawyer character reveal very frankly about the perils of a court case - where it's almost like a "damn if you do and damn if you don't" situation, with having to live with every dirt being dug up on you. Sissy Spacek stars as Josey's mother Alice Aimes, and Richard Jenkins rounds it off as the father Hank - watch out for his emotionally charged speech, which is pretty true if you ask me.

If you're in for some serious family and relationship drama, sprinkled with a dash of courtroom action, with loads of harassment examples, then North Country is the movie to watch this week.

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